The Army Challenge and Personal Development Programme
The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community is currently under-represented in the Army with only 4.6% of serving soldiers being British BAME. The introduction of a 10% target for BAME inflow into the military by 2020 stems from the need to create a more diverse Army that draws from a wider pool of talent to enhance operational effectiveness.
The 4th Infantry Brigade’s area of responsibility includes Bradford, Leeds and Huddersfield which are regions with significant BAME populations. The Army Challenge and Personal Development Programme was a pilot programme from this Brigade with the aim of improving the personal skills and employability of young people from diverse communities and increasing awareness of careers in the Army. Its success has resulted in the national roll out of the programme across the British Army.
The programme is sponsored by the regional Army commander and supporting staff are provided by the Head of the Army Recruiting and Training Division. The initiative is monitored nationally by the Commander Home Command who is responsible for providing an effective BAME engagement strategy. Commander Home Command reports to the Minister of Armed Forces who reviews progress.
The initiative faced significant challenges in accessing diverse communities and in particular the Muslim community.
In some communities the perception of the Army was poor. This was due to a variety of factors including the modern geopolitical environment, recent military interventions and a lack of connection with the Army. Furthermore, many of the people that the Army is seeking to reach come from disadvantaged socio economic and educational groups and often have low confidence and aspirations. Consequently, they feel disaffected and marginalised from mainstream society.
The schemes starting point was to run sensitive consultation sessions with BAME community groups, council community representatives, police, schools, BAME youth workers and community leaders to shape the programme collaboratively. Many communities were initially hostile and reluctant to engage with the Army. Trust had to be built. An Imam was also consulted during the pilot planning phase to identify and promote the many common shared values of Islam and the Army.
The trust of communities was further gained during the Personal Development phase of the programme. This comprised of a series of personal skill training sessions delivered in the heart of diverse communities by serving soldiers. The sessions focussed on improving teamwork, leadership, communication, planning, problem-solving and managing conflict.
The Army Challenge phase of the scheme comprised of a residential course conducted in North Yorkshire and was attended by 26 young British Muslims. Its aim was to raise their personal skills, confidence, resilience and aspirations through participation in challenging outdoor activities. These team-based activities included leadership and survival, obstacle courses and building a shelter to sleep in overnight. All activities are taught within a military context by serving soldiers to build relationships between participants and young soldiers. Through a partnership with the Shared Outcomes project participants in the scheme can progress to achieve an ILM Level 2 leadership qualification formalising their practical experience. They can also achieve valuable work experience in collaboration with our corporate partners.
To date, 90 participants have benefited from the Army Challenge residential courses and over 200 from the Personal Skills Development programme. Three courses have been completed with culturally diverse groups from Huddersfield, Batley and London. The national roll out of the programme continues with an aspiration to complete 18 courses in the next 12 months engaging with over 1500 young BAME participants. As the programme develops it is anticipated that it will significantly improve the employability of participants and their awareness of careers in the Army.
The Army acknowledges that generating positive attitudinal change and recruitment from hard to reach communities is a long-term project. However, the pilot scheme has produced very positive results. The initial residential course of 26 produced expressions of interest in joining the army from 40% of participants. Furthermore, survey results show that all participants felt that the course has raised their personal skills, self-confidence, respect for the Army, and career aspirations. The pilot has also allowed the army to gain a better understanding of diverse communities enabling it to engage more effectively with them in the future.